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5 Ways Anxiety Can Affect Your Physical Health (And What to Do About It)

✎ Written by: Denisa Cerna

✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.

We all feel anxious sometimes. In fact, according to some statistics, almost 34% of people are affected by an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.

Once anxiety begins to interfere with your daily life – for example, social anxiety can make it difficult for you to form new friendships whilst a general anxiety disorder could impair your work performance or sleep – you may notice that it impacts your physical health as well.

This is because anxiety is closely tied to stress, a physiological reaction put in motion by the brain’s detection of a threat. Research indicates that the body’s stress response is usually accompanied by an emotional reaction. If the threat is real and imminent, that emotion is fear. If it is potential or anticipated, it’s anxiety.

The continuous activation of the stress response can put your body under duress in more ways than you realize.

Here are the five physical effects of anxiety:

1) Anxiety might negatively affect the gut

Did you know that your brain and your gut exchange messages via the gut-brain axis?

In fact, they impact one another so strongly that inflammation of the gut has been linked to several mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. What you eat can affect your mood and overall well-being.

And it works the other way around as well.

If your body constantly enters the fight-or-flight state due to anxiety (because your brain detects false threats and you worry too much), your gastrointestinal tract may become inflamed, and you may experience various digestive issues. According to studies, chronic stress is associated with the onset and exacerbation of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms.

One question remains, however: how does this happen?

A 2023 study may have found the answer. It shows that when the body is under stress, it releases hormones called glucocorticoids, which then affect neural cells in the gut referred to as enteric glia. These release inflammatory molecules, and as a result, our gut is out of balance.

2) Anxiety can spike blood pressure

When you detect a potential threat, be it a dangerous situation or a scheduled Zoom call with your boss, the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) becomes activated. This is the main stress response system in your brain, and it’s in charge of physiological reactions to perceived threats.

One such reaction is the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol speeds up your metabolism and spikes your blood pressure, preparing you to fight off a threat or run away from it. This is a very healthy and normal reaction that helps you stay safe.

If your body releases high amounts of cortisol too frequently, however, it could possibly lead to hypertension, which is a condition associated with high or raised blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher, according to the WHO).

A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis confirms this: after having analyzed 59 studies, the authors have found a significant association between anxiety and hypertension.

Moreover, a 2021 study of more than 400 participants discovered that people who have normal blood pressure and high levels of stress detected in their urine were more likely to develop high blood pressure in the next six to seven years.

Higher levels of cortisol were also linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This is because high blood pressure may damage our arteries, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen into the heart.

3) Anxiety is linked to poor sleeping patterns

About 24 to 36% of people who suffer from insomnia (the trouble of falling or staying asleep) also experience anxiety.

Researchers say that frequent anxiety is essentially a set of false alarms, and since these alarms can be very intense, they may lead to sleep-wake difficulties.

For example, you might struggle to fall asleep because you’re overthinking, or you may wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to go back to bed because your worries have triggered you to enter a fight-or-flight state.

  • Performance deficits

  • Cognitive impairment, such as trouble with memory and focus

  • Mood swings

  • Increased stress responsivity

  • Irritability

As for long-term effects, sleep disruption is associated with hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and weight-related issues, to name a few.

4) Anxiety may impair the functioning of the immune system

The activation of the stress response goes hand in hand with multiple different physiological effects, from the release of cortisol to metabolic changes and visible effects such as increased breathing.

What many of us don’t realize is that it actually also impacts the functioning of our immune system.

Since your body doesn’t know whether you’re about to get injured, it tries to prepare just in case. It increases the blood levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, kicking off a short-term inflammation response that promotes healing and eliminates pathogens.

Unfortunately, chronic stress caused by frequent anxiety can lead to systemic inflammation, meaning your immune system gets dysregulated and may be more susceptible to some chronic diseases.

5) Anxiety can cause muscle tension

Do you know that feeling when you’re about to do something stressful, such as taking an important exam or jumping down from a safe yet uncomfortable height? Your teeth grind against each other, your hands may ball into fists, and your whole body tenses in anticipation.

This is yet another way that your body tries to guard itself against potential injury and pain, explains the American Psychological Association. Once the anxiety-inducing situation is over, your muscles release the tension, and your body returns to a relaxed state.

When you regularly experience high levels of stress and anxiety, though, your muscles are almost always tense. This may play a large role in other stress-related disorders or pains.

As APA describes, chronic muscle tension is associated with tension-type headaches and migraines due to the tension in the shoulders, neck, and head. You may also feel pain in the lower back.

Muscle tension is such an important part of anxiety that the mental health researcher Dr Olivia Remes categorizes it as a symptom of an anxiety disorder: “The core of anxiety is fear and restlessness,” she tells Cambridge University. “An example is excessive worrying. If you worry so much that you start to have muscle tension, or if it interferes with your sleep, relationships, or work – that’s when you might have an anxiety disorder.”

How to Tame Your Anxiety: 4 Tips

If you think you may suffer from an anxiety disorder or find it challenging to handle your anxiety symptoms, remember that the best course of action is to consult a mental health professional.

Together, you will be able to create a treatment plan tailored to your specific situation.

The following information could potentially help you along the journey, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

  • Tip 1: Eat a healthier diet: As discussed above, your diet can have a fundamental impact on your anxiety levels due to the brain-gut connection. According to a 2021 scoping review, higher levels of anxiety are associated with a high-fat diet, as well as a high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eating more fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and getting all important micronutrients is linked to less anxiety.

  • Tip 2: Get active: Research shows that exercise offers multiple benefits. For example, it could reduce anxiety sensitivity due to frequent exposure to similar physical symptoms (e.g., rapid heartbeat), it could play an empowering role when it comes to your ability to handle potential threats, and it may also be a helpful distraction technique.

  • Tip 3: Dance it out: Dance movement therapy (DMT) has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. DMT can be practiced with a professional, however, you can also try putting on headphones and dancing at home when you’re feeling particularly anxious. Conscious dance, for example, is a form of unchoreographed and mindful movement that reduces feelings of anxiety and promotes self-expression. Since dancing is so closely tied to creativity, it could provide an outlet for emotions and stress in a way that traditional workouts might not.

  • Tip 4: Try neurofeedback therapy: Neurofeedback training improves emotional self-regulation by optimizing brainwave activity (brain frequencies that are associated with specific mental states). For example, you can learn how to reduce your anxiety by training your brain to enter a relaxed and meditative frequency. Nowadays, this kind of training can be done via apps and EEG technology provided by specialists such as Myndlift in the comfort of your home.  


When you think about it, anxiety is essentially your body trying to protect you in the best way it knows how – by preparing you for a survival situation.

Unfortunately, the anxious brain struggles to recognize that the threats you face are nothing but a work meeting or a first date, and so the stress response ends up having a negative impact on your body in the long term.

The good news is that it is possible to tame your anxiety and look after your health. With the help of a mental health professional, a deeper understanding of how your anxiety works, and some of the tips above, you can slowly but surely show your brain that there is nothing to be scared of.

Myndlift provides a personalized expert-guided brain training program that can help you increase calm, as well as alleviate anxiety symptoms and create a generally relaxed state of well-being. Take this 10-second quiz to check if you’re eligible to kick-start your journey for better brain health.


About the author:

Denisa Cerna is a non-fiction and fiction writer who's passionate about psychology, mental health, and personal development. She's always on a quest to develop a better insight into the workings of the human mind, be it via reading psychology books or combing through research papers.

About the reviewer:

Kaija Sander is a cognitive neuroscientist and scientific consultant for Myndlift. She holds a BSc in Biomedical Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and Mental Health from Imperial College London and a PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University. Her doctoral research focused on brain connectivity relating to second language learning success. She is passionate about the broader applications of science to have a positive impact on people’s lives.



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